8th July 1994……can you recall what you were doing?
I remember it very well indeed. It was the start of a long-term relationship for me, one that would span two decades and see changes aplenty along the way. A relationship in which I would meet dozens of new and close friends, and even some lovers. A relationship where we could be apart for weeks on end, then suddenly together night after night, dancing into the small hours….
8th July 1994 was my first ever gig at Orsett Hall hotel. Back then, the hotel was a medium-sized venue, based around a lovely old Georgian building. It boasted some wonderful oil paintings, original 18th Century inlaid wooden panelled ceiling and even a swimming pool. To me, an antiques auction room manager at the time, this was a joy to visit. We’d held monthly auctions at the hotel a few times, and I’d gotten to know the new manager quite well. Being a disillusioned club DJ at the time too, I was looking for a new angle in my DJing career, and we spoke at length about taking on a residency at the hotel. He had lots of new ideas and plans, and I was keen to get a regular placement close to home. He was prepared to give me a chance, providing I could show him what I could do first. To bring in new business, they had advertised in the local rag the free use of their main function suite on a Friday if you could guarantee 80+ guests.
Another of my hobbies at that time was working with a 14-piece soul revue band…..inspired by The Commitments movie and Blues Brothers songs, they were an energetic young bunch of musicians called The Mud Puppies. And my best mate was the drummer. He dragged me in because a) I had a PA system & b) I was quite good at running things….So, seeing a decent opportunity to get a classy venue for the band’s showcase gig, I booked them in for a nice Summer date……
The night of the gig was phenomenal! We’d hired in a 4000w sound system with a lighting team, a full tiered stage (the drummer’s head was almost touching the ceiling) and we’d sold out of our 250 ticket allocation. I kicked off the night as supporting DJ to the band, using my Technics 1210 decks back then. A few choice dance tunes to set the scene, then the Mud Puppies exploded onto the stage. The reaction was awesome. Six piece brass section, three singers, three guitarists…..the place was truly jumping. Two one hour sets seemed to fly past that night…….and all in a hotel which had no air conditioning in temperatures of 94F outside! I remember looking up at the wooden panelled walls around the room at the end of the night, and they were running with condensation from the 300 guests (ahem…don’t tell H&S ) that we’d crammed in.
At 2am the following morning, we finally flopped on the sofas around the venue, exhausted but deliriously happy with the course of events. The manager turned to me and said, “You’re in. That’s probably the best night we’ve ever had here.” And for the following twenty years, I’ve done my best to repeat that feeling at each and every gig.